Child neglect and its relationship to other forms of harm - responding effectively to children’s needs

Posted by Meredith Davis / Monday 11 July 2016 / Child neglect Safeguarding Emotional neglect

Action for Children, Research in Practice and the NSPCC have come together to explore the potential relationship between neglect and forms of sexual harm and abuse: child sexual exploitation; intra-familial child sexual abuse; and harmful sexual behaviours.

The scopes focus on Neglect because it is the most prevalent form of child maltreatment and also one of the least studied. There is a lot of research that looks at these topics individually. From existing research we know that:

  • Nearly one in ten children in the UK suffers from neglect.
  • While we don’t have data on the prevalence of child sexual exploitation, evidence suggests this is a sizeable problem.
  • Approximately one quarter to one third of all sexual abuse in the UK concerns children and young people as the alleged abusers.
  • Studies have shown that 1% of 18-24 year olds have reported sexual abuse by a parent or carer. It’s difficult to estimate the numbers of children affected by intra-familial child sexual abuse because of under reporting.

This research is different because it looks at how these different forms of harm and vulnerabilities can interact with each other and the relationship between them. 

This is important because too often children are subjected to different forms of harm. Our response shouldn’t just address child sexual exploitation, harmful sexual behaviour, intra-familial child sexual abuse or child neglect in isolation. We need to consider how different vulnerabilities or factors might be increasing risk for individual children and young people, and respond holistically.

Children and families need to receive support at an early stage to prevent further harm and to help children recover from the impacts of abuse and neglect.

We have jointly published three evidence scopes which explore children and young people’s experience of neglect and sexual abuse.

Each of the scopes looks at a different issue and its relationship to neglect. They examine new and emerging evidence bases, pulling out key implications for practice and policy, and suggesting models to support professionals to understand how child neglect can be related to other kinds of harm.

The aim of this work is to stimulate debate, show where more research is needed and help practitioners, commissioners and policy makers to engage with this complicated area.

"And most importantly, we hope that this work will help to protect children and young people from harm, and to help them to recover from abuse and neglect."

Father and sons

The scopes contain recommendations for practitioners, policy makers and commissioners. Some key points raised are:

  • Government must prioritise tackling the causes of neglect and ensure that resources reflect its prevalence and impact.
  • It’s very important for neglected children and their families to receive early help.
  • Support for families should not only focus on parenting but also provide therapeutic support to help children recover from neglect and abuse.  
  • Different agencies need to work together strategically to address neglect and other forms of harm. Practitioners should be supported to respond to emotional neglect, which can often be a hidden form of maltreatment.
  • The role of fathers should be included in policy, research and practice on neglect so that the risks and protective factors that fathers bring to a child’s life are not missed.
  • Policy makers, researchers and practitioners need to do more to recognise and respond to the needs of particular groups affected by neglect and sexual harm, including LGBT, minority ethnic and disabled children and young people.
  • Taking a public health approach has the potential to be an effective way to address neglect, and needs to be explored further.
  • The care system needs to better support children to recover from harm.

The three scopes and the summary with the full list of recommendations for practice and policy are available to download here.

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